Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Galilee, Day 2

Today saw us leave our hotel in טְבֶרְיָה‎ (Tiberias), take a boat on the Sea of Galilee before,  and visit several sites from Jesus' Galilean Ministry before taking the bus to Bet She`an and then Jericho. Here are some video highlights:

Galilee Boat Ride

Rachel and I on the boat Hippos (or Sussitah, it means "horse" in either Greek or Hebrew)
One of the highlights of coming to northern Israel is taking a boat ride on the sea of Galilee. This, of course, always has special meaning to Christians because of the association with the first apostles, who were fisherman on this lake, and more importantly with Jesus, who performed two major miracles here.

Tverya, or Tiberias, the main city, both anciently and now, on the Sea of Galilee

Mount Arbel as seen from the middle of the lake

So both buses loaded on a single boat, and we enjoyed cruising into the center of the length and then northward towards the end of the lake most associated with the New Testament ministry. The boats always play the national anthems of the groups that they are hosting, so we stood for The Star Spangled Banner and then we had fun visiting together for the first part of the boat ride.

As we usually do on such boat rides, we stopped in the middle of the lake, where we had a devotional. Dan and I both spoke, he in some detail about historical and theological significance of Jesus' stilling the storm and then, later, walking on water. I then took my turn and shared a more recent "miracle," a touching experience that I had with my son, Samuel, on this very lake. Samuel has autism. He is high functioning and doing quite well today at age 14, but when we were here in the summer of 2012 at the end of our year with the BYU Jerusalem Center, he was still quite impaired in terms of communication and sensory issues (see, for example, the difficult we had with his school's Easter play at the Garden Tomb towards the very bottom of the page we kept for him during our year in the Holy Land). You can read the substance of what I shared today either in my original blog entry or in the published version, "Our Galilee Miracle" from my Miracles of Jesus.

After our discussions of miracles, past and present, on this very lake, we sang the traditional "Master the Tempest Is Raging" before changing pace and having fun singing and dancing to traditional Israeli folk songs and some Christian rock.



After getting off the boat at Nof Ginosar and getting the mandatory White Magnum Bar (my favorite European and Middle Eastern treat, with which I reward myself during all days in the field), we went to מגדלא (Magdala, Greek Tarachae). In the Second Temple Period, this was a prosperous city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near the mouth of the Valley of the Doves, which in antiquity connected the communities along the lake with the Via Maris and the wider world to the west. Scholars believe that the city's position allowed it to serve as a fish processing center that allowed fisherman in the Galilee to export their product. The city was destroyed in the Jewish Revolt of A.D. 66-72 and not rebuilt. The site was covered over by floods and mudslides, and the small Arab town of Majdal (المجدل) that occupied the area nearby was depopulated in 1948.

In 2009 the site was rediscovered by a Catholic group building a pilgrim hostel. Excavations have yielded the best preserved first century A.D. synagogue in the area, which Jesus almost certainly visited (see Luke 4:15), fish-drying and salting facilities, and mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths). You can read the story beginning here.

Magdala, of course, is associated with the figure of Mary Magdalene, whose name probably means "of Magdala," Luke 8:3 tells that she is one of several leading women who supported Jesus and his movement with their resources, and of course she is best known as being the first person to see the Risen Lord. To honor the role that she and other women played in the early ministry of the Church, the Magdala Association has built a lovely Christian Center and Church next to the archaeological site. Its main sanctuary, dedicated to the Twelve Apostles, has an altar shaped like a ship, which, because of the large window behind it, looks like it is floating on the Sea of Galilee. But it is the atrium or rotunda before it that is most moving to me. It is dedicated Pro Dignitate Mulierum, or "For the Dignity of Women," and features columns under the dome, each of which is dedicated to the women who followed Jesus. These include Mary Magdalene; Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus; Susanna; Joanna the wife of Chuza; the mother-in-law of Peter; the wife of Cleophas; the many others who followed him; and one blank column for those who are unknown.
The outside of the Christian Center at Magdala
Because a priest was saying mass in the main chapel, we stood in the porch for our devotional. I talked about the Woman Who Loved Much (my preferred name for the pericope of Luke 7:36-59 usually called "The Woman Who Was a Sinner) and discussed Jesus' groundbreaking inclusion of women and his revolutionary patterns of commensiality (or table fellowship), which reflected his broader acceptance of all kinds of people, including women, in his movement. We then read Luke 8:1-3 about Mary, Susanna, and Joanna and sang "O Love that Glorifies the Son" before moving into the center.
The inscription around the inside of the rotunda honoring the women of Jesus' ministry
Rachel with the column honoring Mary and Martha
While this column honors "other women" in them ministry, a blank column honors those who are unknown
The altar of the main chapel, designed as a ship, appears to float on the sea visible through the window-wall behind it
In the lower level of the center, a chapel has been built that reflects the original synagogue of Magdala right down to the bema or reading table. However, behind it a powerful painting depicts the woman with the issue of blood who was healed when she reached through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' garment.

St. Peter's Primacy

This site featured a early modern church that is built upon the remains of a Byzantine church that honored a rock known as the mensa Christi. Ostensibly this is the stone upon which Jesus placed the fish that he served his disciples the post-resurrection appearance described in John 21.

Regardless, the site features a rocky beach that allowed our group for the first time to actually touch or wade into the Sea of Galilee, and Victor and I led them to sit under a tree down from and away from the church where we could hold our devotional. After he gave us the background of the site, I read portions of John 21, talked about the denial of Peter and his compensatory three-fold declarations of love. We talked about our own testimonies of the Risen Lord and our obligation to love and serve his followers before singing "My Redeemer Lives" by Hinckley and Durham.

Teaching at St. Peter's Primacy

Teresa Wright and Rachel on a rock in the Sea of Galilee

Capernaum (כְּפַר נַחוּם), Jesus' "Own Town"

 Mark and Matthew describe Capernaum (Hebrew, something like "town of comfort") as being Jesus' own town. Apparently he made it the center of his Galilean Ministry, and together with Bethsaida and Chorazin it constituted the so-called "Evangelical Triangle."

Victor gave us a thorough historical introduction of the site and explained some of the significant things that Jesus did here. Among other things he explained how we need to carefully distinguish between the secure, first-century remains (mostly the basalt foundations of homes in the town) and the later, fourth and fifth century remains of the prosperous, mixed Jewish and Christian town of the Byzantine Period. The famous white synagogue, for instance, is not from Jesus' time, though it might have been built on the spot of the earlier synagogue.

For my devotional, I spoke of some of the important miracles that occurred here, especially the casting out of the demon at the beginning of the gospel of Mark that symbolizes, among other things, how Jesus came to overturn the kingdom of Satan. We discussed the ways that Satan controls us today and can make us miserable now and how Jesus is the source of relief and healing. After reading Matthew 11:28-30 calling those of us who labor and are heavy laden to come unto him, we sang "Come Unto Jesus."

Lunch at the `En Gev Fish Restaurant

This is quite a tradition: eating St. Peter's Fish (locally farmed talapia) at the qibbutz where the BYU Jerusalem Center students stay on their Galilee rotation. Rachel's traditional "kissing the fish" picture says it all. Rachel is, perhaps, more used to it than Teresa Wright.

But as good as the food was the enjoyable conversation we had with our group, who are becoming our good friends.

Bet She`an

We then left Galilee behind and drove down Highway 90 to the site749 that long controlled the important junction of the Jezreel and Jordan River Valleys. Because of its strategic position, it had been controlled by Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites, and each succeeding empire. Known as Bet She`an in the Old Testament, Saul and his sons were killed nearby and their bodies hung upon the walls. In the Hellenistic period it became a Greek city known as Nysa and then Scythopolis. It was a member of the Decapolis at the time of Jesus, and became an important city in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It survived the Muslim conquest of 638 but eventually declined economically to the point that the terrible earthquake of 749 brought it to an end. Its inhabitants, still mostly Christian, could not afford to rebuild it. Gradually it was settled by Arabs and was known as Besan (بيسان). It was depopulated in 1948 and redounded again as Jewish Bet She`an.

The Roman Theater at Bet She`an
The colonnaded decumanus with the earlier tell behind
Signs of the devastating destruction of the earthquake of A.D. 749
The hypocausts of the Byzantine bath house

Bill and Ruby Beeston in the colonnades of Bet She`an

Another tradition: my reward for a long day's work on a hot, hot day

On to Jericho

We then drove on to Jericho, where we got a view of the traditional Mount of Temptation.

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